dissecting dismay

Five signs of Germany's rightward shift

Zwei Jahre Pegida in Dresden
Don't turn your back on these numbers. Source: DPA

1 – The AfD enters the Bundestag as the third-strongest force

The Alternative for Germany isn’t just a right-wing protest movement headed for the German parliament; it’s also a brown-tinged magnet pulling other German political parties in its direction. Its leaders fear the German idyll of bratwurst and beer is being threatened by asylum seekers and Islam. To the AfD, strict immigration limits and draconian security are ways to enforce a sort of cultural Reinheitsgebot (“purity law”, in a term that usually applies to beer brewing). “We’re going to hunt Frau Merkel; we will claim back our country and our people,” said top candidate Alexander Gauland after his party emerged as the third-biggest in the new parliament. While politicians sought clarification of his language, Mr. Gauland insisted his party’s ideals were far more democratic than its rhetoric.

Horst Seehofer und Angela Merkel
Was it something I said? Source: DPA

2 – Bavaria’s CSU discovers its open right “flank”

The response to the AfD’s success from the Christian Social Union, Ms. Merkel’s smaller Bavarian sister party, came quickly. “We got the message,” the irked party leader Horst Seehofer told reporters on Monday. “We will close the right flank with a clear edge and clear political positions.” Mr. Seehofer, who is also the Bavarian premier, had to come up with something after his party suffered its worst federal-election result since 1949. He has long been an outspoken advocate for a cap on refugees, so rivals wondered if closing a flank means aping the AfD. Mr. Seehofer also seemed to call into question the CSU’s relationship with the CDU, but a spokesman later clarified that the politician just wanted the parties to renew their vows.

Federal election in Germany
Sad face emoji. Source: Reuters

3 – Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats talk Leitkultur

If Ms. Merkel and her center-right Christian Democrats move to the right, does that make them right-centerish-right? The CDU lost more than 1 million voters to the AfD, even though it, too, had burnished its conservative rhetoric. Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s interior minister and a CDU member, in May uttered some populist sentiments of his own in Germany’s most populist newspaper, Bild: “Not everyone who stays in our country for a certain period of time becomes a part of our country.” Possibly a dog whistle for lederhosen, bratwurst and beer, the comment sparked a nationwide discussion on German Leitkultur, or a definitive core culture. Now facing the most splintered parliament in modern German history, Chancellor Merkel too feels the pull. She’s promising to win back disaffected voters “by taking on board” their concerns and fears. Interpret that however you wish.

119623209lindner hands-reuters 1800
It's okay, we're here now. Source: Reuters

4 – The Free Democrats turn Canadian

Middle-aged but still boyish, Christian Lindner, the leader of the pro-business Free Democrats, returned his party to the Bundestag after crashing out of it in the last election in 2013. He’s pushing tougher immigration rules for Germany but softens the sell by saying it would follow the Canadian model — and who doesn’t love Canadians? His idea comes down to a targeted selection of people with qualifications, and mass rejections of most others. He’s also talking a good conservative talk on the euro zone. Got a weak European economy? Mr. Lindner would prefer you leave the currency area.

Pegida Demonstration auf dem Theaterplatz
Flags and das Volk: a Pegida march in Dresden. Source: DPA

5 – The Ossis go from far left to far right

You thought the AfD’s national vote share of 13 percent was a lot? In the area that used to be East Germany the party won 21.5 percent, and in Saxony, which borders on the Czech Republic and Poland, it got a whopping 27 percent. Among eastern German men, the AfD was even the strongest party overall. Those born in the formerly communist east, known as Ossis, used to express their disappointment with the economic gloom that followed reunification by voting for the The Left, which descends from the communist party that ruled East Germany. But The Left is nowadays part of some state governments, which seems to make it appear mainstream. So Ossis are defecting to the AfD to vent their frustration.


John Blau is a senior editor at Handelsblatt Global. Andrew Bulkeley is an editor for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the authors: blau@handelsblatt.com, bulkeley@handelsblatt.com

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